Monday, August 9, 2010

Thoughts on recent events

-Chris Chelios has finally decided to hang up his skates at the age of 48 and so the NHL has finally lost one of the greatest of his generation and, much like his countryman Jeremy Roenick, someone who had no qualms about telling you what he thought. While some sports are critisized for having too many loudmouth athletes, the NHL quite frankly could use a few more loud mouths.

-An arbitrator has ruled that the NHL was within it's rights to reject the 17 year Ilya Kovalchuk contract today. Not only does this make Kovalchuk a free agent again but it now set's a precedent for contracts in the NHL. Now Bettman and his boys will be able to more aggresively attack lengthy contacts that they deem ridiculous and the NHLPA has lost an important battle to the NHL with labour negociations looming in the next couple of years.

-Teemu Selanne will be returning to the Anaheim Ducks for another season this year which will be his twelth with the franchise. Likely influenced by his good friend Saku Koivu resigning for two years, the forty year old winger has decided to give it at least one more season. This has sturred up rumours that friend and former Ducks captain Paul Kariya may return to Anaheim with Selanne for a farewell season. The Ducks seem to be a budget team so we'll see if that happens and if it does then Kariya will have taken a pay cut to do so.

-While Edmonton's arena drama between Darryl Katz and Edmonton city council has been well documented, another Canadian team's fight is getting very ugly, very fast. Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young has reportedly told the mayor of the city that he is withdrawing from negociations for a new building that would house his team and the Pan Am games and said that he would move the iconic CFL franchise if his demands are not met. This situation is getting very ugly and now Hamilton may seriously consider getting into bed with the aformentioned Katz if he truly does want to buy the Tie Cats as has been rumoured.

-Tiger Woods had his worst finish as a professional this past weekend at the Bridgestone Invitational. He finished +18 for the tournament and had it been a major he probably wouldn't have made the cut after the first day. Tiger is clearly mentally shot and badly needs time off after the beating he has taken both emotionally and physically over the last year and a half. Tiger may never be the golfer he was just a few years ago but he wouldn't be this bad if he took some time off to recouperate.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

NHL late to the contract party

When the New Jersey Devils signed Ilya Kovalchuck to a seventeen year contract last week I couldn't help but shake my head at the ridiculousness of the term of the contract. Seventeen years? Are you kidding me? Not even the NFL, the most economically sound sports league in North America, has contracts that are that long. Ten year contracts are viewed as huge. Gary Bettman and the powerful owners of the league obviously agreed with me since the NHL rejected the Kovalchuck contract one day after it was signed. The NHLPA though has decided to take the NHL in front of an arbitrator to argue that the Kovalchuck contract doesn't break any rules and therefore the NHL overstepped their boundaries by rejecting it. And you know what, the NHLPA may very well have a pretty good point. The Kovalchuck contract technically doesn't break any rules in the CBA it just bends a few of them, but bending a few rules does not give the NHL the without a doubt right to reject it. This is the league's head office trying to send a message to the owners that these long term contracts are not good for them and that they can become an anchor on their ability to compete at a high level (ie. The New York Islanders with the Alexei Yashin and Rick DiPietro contracts), unfortunately the NHL is too late to this party.

When the New York Islanders signed Rick DiPietro to a fifteen year contract back in 2006, the NHL should have stepped in and slapped the wrist of a team and an owner (Charles Wang) who had a well earned reputation of making extremely stupid, rash decisions that have sewered the once proud franchise. Four years into the contract and the Islanders have completed their decent into the cellar of the NHL and DiPietro has spent the same amount of time trying to stay healthy. Over the last two seasons DiPietro has undergone countless surgeries and has shown a total inability to stay healthy and his contract has become a Titanic sized anchor to the Islanders. There are other mega-sized contracts in the NHL that haven't yet blown up in their teams faces (ie. Alex Ovechkin getting thirteen years, Mike Richards getting twelve, Duncan Keith getting twelve years, and Johan Franzen getting eleven years) but when you sign a player for that long all it takes is one hard luck injury to change that. The NHL is just too late to change the culture of contracts that has begun when it comes to young star players as the CBA (not Kevin Lowe, as much as Brian Burke would prefer you believe that) has killed the slow upgrading of salaries for players. It's what the salary cap did in the NFL and now the NHL, the league's head office should have seen this coming but now it's too late to change where the league is going in this regard and another lockout would kill the league so that is not an option.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Calm Before the Storm

At least that's what this time is supposed to be. However the dominos have already begun to fall days before things kick off on the floor of the Staples Centre on Friday. Jaroslav Halak was by far the biggest chip to drop so far when he was traded last week to St.Louis for two prospects, Lars Eller and Ian Schultz. That trade has been, for the most part, universally paned by fans and bloggers however many hockey people have said that Montreal got some good pieces in the two young forwards with Eller being a big talented centre who plays with edge and Schultz was the captain of the Calgary Hitmen where he was a big, tough winger who can chuck em'. Many people in hockey believe that the new regulations on goalie equipment coming in this year will drastically reduce the effectiveness of Halak (I call BS on that one. Halak as usual will work his way through that) and that Price just has too much potential to give up on and his work ethic and attitude improved by leaps and bounds after the midway point of the season. However his still can have immature moments (ie. getting two 10 minute misconducts in the Washington series) and the jury is still out on whether or not he can reach his full potential. No matter which way you slice it this was a very gutsy trade that will either end up looking great for GM Pierre Gauthier or this will go down with the Patrick Roy trade, Chris Chelios trade and LeClair and Desjardins trade as one of the worst trades in franchise history.

The second chip to fall was the Nathan Horton trade from Florida to the Boston Bruins after requesting a change of scenery. Horton, the centrepiece to the deal, is a former 3rd overall pick in the 2003 draft and has yet to live up to his lofty promise like many young players in Florida. Horton is a big power forward who can skate and has soft hands. His best season came a couple of seasons ago when he had 31goals and just over 60 points. Since then however his play has dropped off and not only have his work ethic and desire to win been universally paned, but people have questioned whether he truly enjoys playing hockey. If the change and the pressure of playing in Boston can change him around however Boston may very well take the next step towards the Stanley Cup next season. Gregory Campbell is an extra forward who will provide depth and energy but not much else. In return Florida received Dennis Wideman, the 15th overall pick in this years draft and a 3rd round pick in next year's draft. Wideman is a good puck moving defenseman who became Boston fans wipping boy last season after getting off to a rough start and didn't recover until near the end of the season and performed quite well in the playoffs with 12 points in 13 games. If Wideman can keep his play on track from were it was at the end of the season then the Panthers have the makings of a potentially great backend with Dimitri Kulikov, Keaton Ellerby as a shut down guy and one of either Erik Gudbranson, Cam Fowler, and Brandon Gormley that they'll take with the 3rd pick (my guess in Gudbranson). The 15th overall pick hasn't delivered alot of success in recent years however this year's draft is supposed to be very deep so the Panthers may be able to snag a quality prospect in that spot such as Alex Burmistrov, Emerson Etem, Mark Pysyk or Dylan McIlrath. The 3rd round pick next year in a reportedly horrendous draft is a crap shoot.

Then today the Chicago Blackhawks did what most felt they had to do in order to shed salary by agreeing to trade playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, and prospect Akim Aliu to the Altanta Thrashers in exchange for the 24th overall pick, a second round pick, Marty"Joe Sakic"Reasoner, and prospect Jeremy Morin. This was a straight up salary dump as the 'Hawks try to get themselves under the salary cap as the huge extensions for Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews kick in. Byfuglien is a pick powerful forward who can also play defence but has yet to show the consistency to be called a top end power forward. After an impressive playoff Big Buff has reached a crossroads in his career. He'll either go the John LeClair route and will explode after having a big playoff like LeClair did after winning the cup with Montreal in 1993 or he'll be the next Fernando Pisani and will just be a depth player for the rest of his career. It'll be interesting to see how he turns out. Sopel is a guy that the Blackhawks were trying to get rid of last season but he had no trade value until he had a highly impressive playoff for the Cup champs. He's solid in his own end and can put up numbers if called upon but he's a better player if you don't ask to much of him. Ben Eager is a modern day tough guy, he'll take on all comers and he can actually skate and play the game. A very underrated pick up in this trade. Aliu is a high end prospect who's always had some kind of controversy or off ice problem following him so perhaps a market where no one is paying attention will be better for him. Plus with Jack Skille and Kyle Beach ready to make the jump soon he was expendable. The 24th pick could very well land a good player for Chicago in a deep draft year as well as the second rounder. Morin is a forward prospect and a great shooter but apparently his skating needs major work. All in all this was about one team that needed to shed salary and another that needed to take salary on a show immediate improvement next season.

**Update** The Edmonton Oilers have acquired forward Colin Fraser from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a 6th round pick. This was a great pickup for the Oilers. A big centreman who can provide success in the faceoff circle, grit, and leadership. If the vultures weren't circling the Blackhawks they probably could have gotten more then a 6th round pick.

The San Jose Sharks have re-signed Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau to 4 year contracts. In Pavelski's case, the Sharks have re-upped their best young player and the guy who was their playoff MVP this year. He can do just about everything on the ice and the Sharks also managed to buck the trend of handing out massively long contracts to young players as well. With Marleau re-signing it means not only that Marleau will be a life long Shark but also with Tomas Plekanec re-signing in Montreal this week as well an already weak UFA market is down to only one top flight free agent in Ilya Kovalchuk. Let the bidding for Matthew Lombardi begin!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Buyout Season!

Now that the Stanley Cup is over most people's attention has turned to the 2010 entry draft in Los Angeles or free agency which kicks off on July 1st. However between June 15 and 30th a very underrated and suddenly becoming important event is occurring: buyout season! This is the time of year when GM's have a chance to buy their way out of the stupid contracts that they've given out over the years. The most notable was Alexei Yashin who was bought out a few years ago by the New York Islanders with five years left on his deal. However the bad part that comes along with this process that punishes teams for doing this is that they have to pay off a percentage of the contract over 2 times the remaining years which means that for a total of 10 years the Islanders still have somewhere north of 1.5 million on their cap dedicated to Alexei Yashin. The Montreal Canadiens bought out Georges Laraque today and this will leave 500,000 on their cap for the next two seasons. These contracts were examples of GM's getting overzealous in handing out their owner's money trying to improve their teams but paying way too much to do so. This period is a bitter reminder of those times.

There are plenty of candidates for buyouts on Canadian teams and around the league. The Oilers have 3 potential candidates for buyout: Patrick O'Sullivan, Robert Nilsson, and Ethan Moreau. All three of these players had horrendous seasons and probably should be part of the Oilers next season for themselves and for the team. Moreau, the vet who is not aging gracefully, might be able to fetch a bag of pucks while O'Sullivan, whom basically became Joeffery Lupul 2.0 this year, might be able to fetch a low round draft pick. Nilsson will probably be bought out and is destined for Europe. His talent level isn't intriguing enough to make up for his lack of desire and interest. Buying him out will result in a 1 million dollar cap hit for the next two seasons. Jonathan Cheechoo will likely be bought out by Ottawa. Cheechoo looked like he might become one of the top goal scorers in the NHL after a couple of thirty goal seasons and then exploding for 56 while playing with Joe Thornton however injuries have effectively derailed his career. A 1.75 million cap hit for the next two years will count against Ottawa's cap. Jeff Finger in Toronto might be a candidate for a buyout there after Cliff Fletcher signed him to a ludicrously inflated contract two years ago, Andrei Kostitsyn might be cut in Montreal, The Flames swapped Olli Jokinen's brutal contract for Ales Kotalik's even worse contract and is a buyout candidate. Chicago's Cristobal Huet is perhaps the most discussed buyout candidate, as he never seemed to leave the bench in Chicago post-Olympic break, and is making 5.75 million. That is way too much money and cap space for a backup goaltender. There are likely others that will be bought out over the next two weeks.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Coaching retreads starting to fade out of the game

The Columbus Dispatch is reporting that the Columbus Blue Jackets have offered their head coaching position to AHL coach of the year, Guy Boucher, who just finished up his first season as a head coach in Hamilton. The Blue Jackets are in need of a new head coach after firing NHL veteran coach and Stanley Cup winner Ken Hitchcock this past season. Hitchcock was fired in large part due to his inability to relate to and work with younger players such as Derrick Brassard, Kris Russell, Steve Mason, Jake Voracek, and especially Nikita Filatov who went back to Russia because his relationship with Hitchcock had become unbearably toxic. This has become a theme in the last 2 to 3 years in the NHL when it comes to coaches and whether or not they can hold onto their jobs. In the salary cap world of the NHL you need to have young cheap assests on your team that can be a big part of your team and coaches need to be able to work with those young players. You need to be able to let them make mistakes and learn from them and be able to balance using tough love but also positive reinforcement and coddling as today's hockey players earn close to and sometimes more then a million dollars their first year in the league and the mentality of today's player is different. There is not only a sense of entitlement from a yound age (ie. Sergei Kostitsyn) but also many seem to be fragile mentally as compared to the old day players don't seem to react as well or willingly to iron-fist tactics of coaches like they used to if the coach's name isn't Scotty Bowman.

Hitchcock was not able to do that with the guys in Columbus and he isn't the only pre-lockout NHL head coach who's ways have become obsolete when it comes to running a bench. Mike Keenan was run out of Calgary after two years because his tactics simply did not connect with his players (interestingly enough his replacement Brent Sutter has suffered the same problem not only during his stop in New Jersey but also this past year in Calgary), Marc Crawford has worn out his welcome in Vancouver and Los Angeles since the lockout ended so how long before his strong arm tactics start to fall on deaf ears in Dallas? Craig MacTavish's inability to work with the young players in Edmonton (ie. Dustin Penner, Joeffrey Lupul, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, etc.) eventually he lost his job and was replaced by the even more old school Pat Quinn who lost the young Oilers players before even a full season was up because he refused to allow them to make mistakes and become better because of them as he ripped them in the media constantly. John Tortorella and Ron Wilson have long had reputations as brutal taskmasters who's first choice as a motivation tactic is to publically and privately rip individual players which works in the short term but will cost them their jobs in the long term (except for Wilson because his buddy Burkie would rather change the players then the coach) and Michel Therrien would also fall into this catagory and Al Murray lasted about two years before getting the ax in St.Louis. While he has saved his job for at least one year with a Cinderella run to the Conference Finals, Jaques Martin once again reinforced his reputation that he started in Ottawa with his handling of Jason Spezza of being unable to work with young players. His handling of Ryan O'Byrne with constantly jerking him in and out of the lineup in favor of the human turnover machine, aka. Marc-Andre Bergeron, and stapling him to the bench after one mistake in games in not condusive to allowing him to grow as a player and it was the same thing with Max Paciorrety whom the Habs eventually had to send back down to Hamilton to try and find him game again under Boucher.

Because of this changing of the guard teams have begun to go in search of new blood for the head coaching ranks of the league either from the CHL or the AHL. Bruce Boudreau, a long time AHL coach, replaced the defensive minded task master Glen Hanlon in Washington three years ago now and the Capitals exploded under his leadership. Peter DeBoer, former coach of the Kitchener Rangers, has done an admirable job with the talent given to him by the aformentioned Jaques Martin during his time as GM in Florida. Cory Clouston, Joe Sacco, Sean Gordon, and of course Dan Bylsma in Pittsburgh represent the new wave of head coach's in the NHL who understand and are able to work with the young players in the league today. The smart teams are hiring these guys to work and grow with the young, rebuilding, progressive teams in the league and it's only a matter of time before everyone jumps on the bandwagon.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Philly and Chicago prove that depth top bright lights

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Deatsyuk, Nik Lidstrom, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Roberto, the Sedin twins, Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green, Nik Backstrom, Alex Semin, Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Martin Brodeur, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Zach Parise are all sitting at home right now because the Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks (with some help from the Montreal Canadiens) have proven that bright lights can be turned out by a swarm of depth.

In rounds 1 and 2, the Habs managed to slow down Ovechkin and Backstrom along with Semin and Green (although one could argue that those two took themselves out) of their first round matchup. No such thoughts could exist after the Canadiens used the blanket of Josh Georges and Hal Gill to completely shut down the NHL's golden boy Sidney Crosby and help continue Evgeni Malkin's season long fog. Jordan Staal was by far the Pens most effective player when he played in the series. However once they reached they reached the Eastern Final, not only were they out of gas but they were simply overmatched by the Philadelphia Flyers. While the Habs had two players who were absolutely rolling (is. Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta) none of their teammates up front were contributing all that much offensively except for the occasional goal from the third line. The Flyers on the other hand had three lines that seemed to be able to score on any shift: Richards-Carter-Gagne, Leino-Briere-Hartnell, Giroux-Van Riemsdyk-Aasham. All three of these lines have talent and the testicular fortitude to head to the net hard. On defence the Flyers possess the All-World jackass Chris Pronger (whom also just happens to be an all-world talent) along along with calm and cool Kimmo Timonen and two up and comers in Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle form a very solid/at times spectacular top four that has made career journeyman Michael Leighton look like the second coming of Bernie Parent. Ryan Parent is also a promising up and comer as their current #6 guy. No team in the East could possibly match their depth. (Blair Betts is one of the top PK guys in the league whom along with blood and guts warrior Ian Laperriere and Darryl Powe form a very good fourth line).

The bad news for Philly is that their opponent, the Chicago Blackhawks, are even deeper then they are. 22 year old captain Jonathen Toews-Patrick Kane-Dustin Byfuglien form the first line, Patrick Sharp-Marian Hossa-Troy Brouwer, Dave Bolland (who has become one of the best checking centers in the NHL this season)-Kris Versteeg-Andrew Ladd/Tomas Kopecky form the top three lines that are even better then Philly's because a) they have more balanced speed and b) Ladd or Kopecky aren't an anchor on their line like Aaron Asham can be. As good as the Flyers fourth line can be, John Madden-Colin Fraser/Adam Burish-Ben Eager line is a little more physical, a little more annoying to play against, and Madden bring cup winning experience to the lineup. Much like Philly, the top four on D borders on phenomenal with the top pairing in the league with Canadian Olympians Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell with the very underrated Nik Hjalmarsson following them. One more place that the 'Hawks have a slight advantage is in the 5-6 pairing as Brent Sopel and Jordan Hendry bring the physicality and shot blocking ability that you want out of your bottom two. Finally in net Antti Niemi has shown (after that blooper reel goal in game on of the Nashville series) that he is solid and will not give up that bad big goal. You can bet that other teams have taken notice and the copycatting will take place starting this summer as the league will now think about trying to build through depth rather then a few big stars. The next lesson however that the league will learn from these two is in a year or two that in a cap era, depth is nearly impossible to hang onto as Philly and Chicago will have to make some very tought choices on which players to keep.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

D-Fence, D-Fence! First round analysis

If there has been one lesson that this year's edition of the playoffs has taught us it's that, no matter how well your goaltender is playing or how good your forward corps is, if you don't have a calm puck moving defence you can't win. The first round of the playoffs had clear examples of this in each series victory in both the East and the West.

In the San Jose (1) vs. Colorado (8) series, the tentative Sharks were tied up at 2-2 in the series when Dan Boyle, who had scored the game winner on his own net in game 3, stepped up his game in a big way along with Douglas Murray and Marc-Edward Vlasic. With these three elevating there game's the Colorado Avalanche were never able to get on prolonged offence going in San Jose's end while Colorado's defence simply isn't that good (John-Michel Liles, Adam Foote, Kyle Cumiskey, Scott Hannan, Tom Preissing, Kyle Quincey, Brett Clark and Ruslan Salei? Blech). In the Chicago (2) vs. Nashville (7) series the Predators were able to take the Blackhawks to 6 games (and might have beaten them if not for some suspect officitating on Marian Hossa's mugging of Dan Hamhuis and their porous power play) even with no real legitimate goal scoring threat with Patrik Hornqvist on the shelf and Alexander Radulov abandoning the team for the KHL is because they probably have the best defence in the NHL. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are both legitimate #1 dmen with Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Klein, Cody Franson, and Denis Grebeshkov they formed what is an enviable defence and with Jonathan Blum and Mike Green clone (albeit I think he's overrated and that his play in this past year's World Juniors showed that PK Subban made him look good the previous year) Ryan Ellis coming this isn't going to change. Chicago's much publised D with Olympic duo Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith along with Brian Campbell, Nik Hjalmarsson, and Brent Sopel is just a step below Nashville's. In the Vancouver (3) vs. Los Angeles (6) series, beyond Drew Doughty, LA's defence did not play well. Jack Johnson has been a dissapointment so far in his NHL career, Matt Greene wasn't effective, Sean O'Donnell showed his age and Rob Scuderi wasn't nearly as good as he was in Pittsburgh last year. Vancouver's D, while unspectacular, was very steady and didn't make mistakes which made a huge difference. In the Phoenix (4) vs. Detroit (5) series, Phoenix's defence was the better of the two for the first 6 games which allowed the Coyotes to take the more talented Red Wings to 7 games before getting pummeled in game 7.

In the Eastern Conference it was the same story. The Pittsburgh Penguins (4) were able to defeat the Ottawa Senators (5) not just because of Sidney Crosby (although don't tell the Canadian media that) but also because their D is alot better. With Philip Kuba on the DL the Senators simply couldn't move the puck out of their own zone while Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang, and Alex Goligoski did to great effect. Lou Lamirello's insistence on not spending any money on his defence once again blew up in his face this spring. With the heavily favoured New Jersey Devils (2) going down shockingly easily to the Brian Boucher goaltended Philadelphia Flyers (7), defence was once again at the forefront. The Devils once upon a time had a defence that included the likes of Scott Niedermayer, Bryan Rafalski (whom the Devils refused to pay), Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko has become one of the worst in the league and was weakened even further when the traded Johnny Oduya to the Atlanta Thrashers as part of the package for Ilya Kovakchuk who did not work in "The Swamp". Beyond the undersized Andy Greene they couldn't move the puck to save their life while the Flyers, with the likes of Matt Carle, Kimmo Tiomenen, Braydon Coburn, Ryan Parent, and of course the all-world Chris Pronger, didn't give the Devils many second chances or the oppurtunity to cycle down low because they moved the puck out too quickly. The Boston Bruins (6) were able to defeat the Buffalo Sabres (3) for two reasons: Buffalo's power play couldn't manage a single goal and their defence was far superior to Buffalo's. Zdeno Chara was his usual self, Dennis Wideman steadied himself after a poor year, Matt Hunwick quietly does a good job moving the puck out of his own end and Johnny Boychuk (whom Chara has made look good because he's his partner) has had the time to move the puck. Beyond Tyler Myers, Buffalo's defence simply doesn't have enough talent to win. Finally, in the biggest upset of the playoffs in years, the Montreal Canadiens (8) managed to come back to defeat the President's Trophy winning Washington Capitals (1) in 7 games because of Jaroslav Halak and because their defence was better then Washington's. While Joe Corvo played well, Mike Green has solidified his reputation as the Joe Thornton of defensemen as for the 3rd straight playoff year he was brutal. Shaone Morrison, Milan Jurcina, John Erskine and Jeff Shultz aren't great at moving the puck and Tom Poti, who had been their best dman (that's right Oiler fans) through the first 5 games was knocked out of the series with a broken orbital bone and was not replaced. John Carlson, who was also great through the first 5 games, really started to fall off in the effort department after that and so his effectiveness plummeted. Andrei Markov, while unspectacular, managed to badly outplay his counterpart in Mike Green while Josh Georges and Hal Gill became the top shutdown pair in the NHL playoffs as they shut down Alex Ovechkin and Nik Backstrom. Roman Hamrlik was brutal through the first 5 games until his buddy Jaro Spacek (who had been very steady) went down with an illness and next seasons Calder Trophy winner (you heard it hear first!) PK Subban was called up. Subban got increasing ice time and controlled the play when he has been on the ice. The Capitals never got any second chances because the Habs D cleared the puck after Halak made the first save while the Caps D couldn't do the same.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Calvalry Isn't Coming Over the Nearest Hill For Awhile

The Edmonton Oilers have fulfilled the prophecy I made 3 years ago of a steady decent into the basement of the league. The lack of talent on their roster is so horrendous that even their AHL and ECHL teams are in the basements of their respective leagues. The starting six on defense (making a combined 22 million this season) is one of the worst unit's collectively in the league and their most steady performer, Ladislav Smid, is reviled by local fans due to his forever connection to the fleecing that was the Chris Pronger trade. Up front Ales Hemsky, while overrated, is the team's best playmaker and is out for the season with a shoulder injury so the team relies almost exclusively on Dustin Penner for consistent offense. The developement of the young players such as Sam Gagner, Robert Nilsson, and Andrew Cogliano has completely stalled or has regressed unbelievably. Shawn Horcoff and his contract has become a running joke, akin to Tiger Woods, around the league and Patrick O'Sullivan is performing a dissapearing act in Edmonton that would put Joeffry Lupul to shame. But maybe no position is in worse shape then the goaltenders. Nikolai Khabibulin has serious back issues that limited him to only 18 games this season and now require surgery. At 36 years of age not only is their no guarrantee how he'll be when he comes back but his contract with 3 years left on it at 3.75 millon wouldn't come off the cap if he retires now because he signed the contract after the age of 35. Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk are two young, inexperienced goaltenders who's intro to the league has basically become like being Christians handed to the lions in the Roman Coliseum. However the thing that has given Oiler fans hope is that the management team can no longer live in the dark about how bad the team is. That along with prospects who starred in the World Juniors (Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paarvi-Svensson, and Anton Lander) and a probable top 3 draft pick, maybe even Taylor Hall at first over all, must mean that a full blow up of the roster is imminent right? Not really.

Beyond those three mentioned prospects there's nothing of note beyond maybe Jeff Petry coming up the pipe first of all. Secondly the contract situations of almost the entire roster. They are a last place team with a first place payroll. Out of all the players featured frequently in the trade rumor mill (i.e. Steve Staios, Ethan Moreau, Sheldon Souray, Andrew Cogliano, Tom Gilbert, and Patrick O'Sullivan) only Cogliano will probably draw serious interest at the trade deadline. If coached properly Cogliano could probably be an elite checking forward in the league with his speed. He doesn't have the hockey sense or hands to be a consistent goal scorer. The other players all have at least one season left after this one their contracts for money that they are not worth. Moreau and Staios are making 2 million and 2.7 next year respectively. Souray is a 5.5 million and a NTC next year. O'Sullivan is making around 3 million next year while Tom Gilbert has four years remaining at 4 million per season. No one is going to even think about trading for those contracts until the draft in June. So don't expect a major housecleaning until June.

And of course there's the draft. The Oilers have succesfully continued to plummit down to the basement and are now only 2 points up on the Carolina Hurricans and with the 'Canes playing some halfway decent hockey right now the Oilers will probably take a stranglehold on the 30th place position soon. This would give them a 50% chance of winning the draft lottery and getting the first overall pick in this years upcoming draft. The last place team doesn't always get that pick though. In 2004 the Washington Capitals moved up from #3 and got the right to take the current best player in the NHL, Alex Ovechkin, while in 2006 the Chicago Blackhawks moved up from #5 to #1 to be able to take Patrick Kane (as a side note the Edmonton Oilers were in that slot until their last game of the season where the defeated the Calgary Flames). The furthest the Oilers could fall would be the #2 slot and if indeed this comes to pass then taking Windsor Spitfires defenseman Cam Fowler ahead of Plymouth Walers centre Tyler Seguin. While both look like great picks, a star #1 defenseman is more important then a #1 centreman so Fowler should be the pick. Naturally if they get the first pick then Taylor Hall is a forgone conclusion.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

World Junior Dissapointment and Reflection

Another country actually winning the World Junior Hockey Championships? On Canadian soil no less? There must be some mistake? That couldn't possibly happen could it? Is the American hockey program catching up to ours which is essentially our worst nightmare!? There answer is: no. Yes the Americans and, I think, the Swedes had better teams in this tournament then Canada did; Team Canada was held back by two circustances:

1) As Don Cherry and every Canadian hockey fan under the sun has been pointing out since John Carlson scored the winning goal for the US in overtime, there are many young Canadian players who are already staring in the NHL (i.e. Tyler Myers, Steven Stamkos, Michael Del Zotto, John Tavares, Matt Duchane, Ryan O'Reilly, Drew Doughty who was good enough to be the 7th defensman on the Canadian Olympic team for Christ's sake, Luke Schenn, Josh Bailey, Evander Kane) and injured (last year's reigning CHL player of the year Cody Hodgson).

2) Hockey Canada's arrogance and head coach Willie Desjardins' brutally flawed selection process of the Team. Hockey Canada believes that they can throw any collection of players out on the ice and would be succesful. Desjardins put together a team that was built to win in the WHL where he coach's (Medicine Hat): Big, strong, and tough. However a side effect of those attributes happens to be the one that screwed Team Canada at the end: speed. When the gold medal game went to overtime I knew that Canada had no chance of winning unless they could hold out until the shootout. At 4 on 4 with all that extra open ice, speed kills. And the Americans had way more of that then the Canadians. Their forwards were way faster then the Canadian defense who played like their feet were encased in frozen carbonyte. It got so bad that Desjardins lost so much faith in two of his handpicked defenseman, Calvin de Haan and Jared Cowan in particular, that he didn't play them basically at all over the last 3 games and had to play forward Brandon MacMillan on defense quite a bit. And MacMillan had been a very effective forward.

So with a revamping of the Canadian coaching staff next year who takes speed (a key attribute in international tournaments particularly on the backend as this years World Junior Silver Medalists and Team Canada's seventh place finishers at the Turin Olympics would attest) we will probably be back on top in Buffalo next year.